Bright sparks: from apprentice welder to maths tutor

Mamollo Kok is known to her friends as Mamiki. To two-year-old Zizipho she is Mama. To the 700 foundation phase learners at Nelson Mandela Primary School in Sasolburg where she is a JumpStart tutor, helping out in the maths lessons, she is simply "Maths Teacher". Soon, however, Mamiki will be a fully qualified Grade R teacher thanks to a Study Assist Bursary.

What’s in a name? In Southern Sotho “mamollo” means “mother of fire”. It’s a fitting name for a person who protects the embers, blowing gently on them and waiting for the spark of learning to emerge as a flame. Certainly, the prospects are improving for the children who pass through her care. “Mother of fire” also speaks to Mamiki’s own feisty passion for her own education.

In Grade 1, 2 and 3, the teacher-student ratios are 1 to 40, 45, and 48 respectively, so it’s easy for the little ones to fall through the cracks. Mamiki is determined to make sure each child counts, literally and metaphorically.

In the small Free State town of Ventersburg, Mamiki’s parents believed that life is most meaningful when you help other people. She wanted to study social work, but despite her best efforts, a university exemption was beyond reach. Mamiki channeled her disappointment into volunteering. She assisted a social worker in caring for orphans, visiting sick people at home, and distributing food parcels to the needy.

Four years later she still had no job… “So I moved to Sasolburg and studied welding,” says the softly spoken but pragmatic young woman. Once again, frustration and unemployment came her  way. Mamiki knew all about metalworking techniques and tools; she could read welding symbols and safety drills, but the time was wrong and no sparks flew.

Despite her desperate situation, she refused to give up. When a friend nudged Mamiki to apply for the JumpStart internship, she grabbed the chance. She hid her nerves, showed up for an interview with Stephen and Betty, and said her prayers. “Imagine my joy when I got this position,” says Mamiki, remembering the encounter, five years ago.

Mrs Tsotetsi, the Deputy Principal, has noticed Mamiki’s heartfelt approach to motivating every learner she works with. “She is a kind gentle person, who helps learners realise their full potential. The boys and girls open up to her, losing their fear of maths and their embarrassment at failure. She is a great asset to the school, with a natural flair for connecting with the youngest learners. She was an obvious candidate for a JumpStart Study Assist Bursary.”

This week Mamiki registered for her final year of a Diploma in Gr R Teaching at Sasolburg’s Lyceum College. Mamiki enjoys the coursework, focused on early childhood education. “This bursary is a great opportunity, helping me reach my goals to help others. As a breadwinner, the bursary fosters my career, and impacts on my family. Neither of my parents have work, so I can support them and care for my daughter too.”

“No child in Mamiki’s care is a hopeless case,” says Mrs Tsotseti, who mentors the young teacher. Mamiki said, “She teaches me a lot about teaching, and makes me feel very special.” With the JumpStart bursary, Mamiki’s dream is burning brightly.

Scroll to top